Amid Region's Unrest, Al-Qaeda Makes Inroads In Yemen

"The withdrawal of security forces from some provinces has left a power vacuum that al-Qaeda is trying to fill, threatening the U.S.-backed fight against the country's terrorist network.The chaos that President Ali Abdullah Saleh has repeatedly warned was imminent because of an uprising against his rule has taken hold in at least four of the country's provinces.

In the southern province of Abyan, the stronghold of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Islamist militants have seized several towns after the Yemen army and its U.S.-trained counterterrorism unit was called back to help defend areas closer to the capital. On jihadist websites, the region is being referred to now as the ""Islamic Emirate of Abyan.""

Abyan's capture follows that of the capture of Jaar by al-Qaeda, according to Saleh. The looting of an arms factory that left 150 people dead on Tuesday, according to the army, has turned the area into a lawless province. Whether the militants can hold onto it is another matter, they say.""Al-Qaeda is not well-equipped enough to take over these towns in a direct battle with Yemen's security forces,"" said Yemeni political analyst Abdul Ghani al-Iryani. ""But without a security presence in these areas, al-Qaeda will make gains.""

U.S.-born radical Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki said in a new article that violent Islamist groups will be able to take advantage of the Arab world's wave of popular unrest even if it leads to secular governments in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.

""Even if the upcoming governments wanted to continue with a policy of appeasing the West and Israel, they would not have the strength and depth of power that the previous governments had developed over the past three decades,"" al-Awlaki writes in al-Qaeda's online magazine.

Whatever the outcome of the revolts, ""our mujahedin brothers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya ... will get a chance to breathe again after three decades of suffocation,"" he writes
USA Today